On "The Men"

I’m modern, independent, self-determining.  Or am I? Quite often since the breakup I have had keen moments of realizing that I remain imbued with Gary’s tastes and opinions.  We had similar tastes, in many ways, to begin with. We both liked Bernadette Mayer, Clark Coolidge, Arabic music and Indian food even before we met.  And in the marriage our tastes blended into each other more:  he came to like Japanese food and Alan Davies, I to enjoy graphic novels and Jack Smith.  There were divergences.  I would never, for example, really warm up to DA Levy or Paul Blackburn (they were both just too “guy” for me), and he never really got into my predilection for long colorful scarves (which he said made me look like Anne Waldman) or chinoiserie in interior decoration, but still, by the end of the marriage, he was wearing a lot of purple, and in his own way, by the end, he exceeded me even in orientalism.
Not too long ago I finally got around to purging my iTunes library of a ton of music he had put on there that I had never liked – a lot of international rap and hiphop, primarily, and Asian pop sung in tinny little voices – and I felt sort of liberated – but it was interesting to me how much of the music I still like, that I would have chosen “for my own” – the Vietnamese ballads, all the 60s stuff,  just about everything Arabic or Turkish, for example. I do look at his blog. I shouldn’t, but I do. Sometimes I even download the music. Sometimes I can’t fathom why on earth he would enthuse over a particular album or group:  Deerhoof?  Really? But even now I still experience much of the music he promotes as “ours.”  It’s a bittersweet soundtrack for me now, of course, but it’s part of me. He should, I think, write at least a little more deeply and descriptively about the music he posts there. He has the chops – or used to.  He tends instead though  to put up a collocation of an eager adverb and a superlative – “jaw-droppingly great!”, and now and then an anecdote, while sort of dismissively characterizing more analytical approaches by critics as  “socio-semiotic.” Ah, well.

So… one of the things I noticed I have become more and more enamored of as I notice I am becoming more in possession of my own independent opinions is the writing of Lisa Robertson.  It wasn’t really Gary’s thing, and I remember at least one other guy poet I hang out with not really being much into it, either. I suppose they experienced it as too precious, or too mannered, or too impenetrable, or something. I admire all these qualities, and in fact, the first time I met Lisa, I said to her, “I write a little bit like you, but not as well.”  If I hold anything against her writing, it is simply that it is too exquisitely well-done.  I have a fantasy of her sitting at some very perfectly organized writing desk, with an air of profound concentration, perhaps looking out at redwood trees (why, I wonder, redwood trees?), and I can almost imagine her internal thought processes, how gradual and methodical they must be, not like mine that more resemble a frightened sparrow trapped in a padded elevator.  Her writing and person give off an air of being both sublime and logical.  This is of course a total projection, but I admire this construction of My Lisa Robertson as a kind of goal made unreachable by the constraints of my sloppier and more fluttery personality or chemistry.
A couple of months ago, someone (I think it was Arielle Greenberg? or Danielle Pafunda?) posted on facebook a few lines from LR’s book The Men, with a superlative gush about how much she loved it. I loved the excerpt she posted so much that I ordered the book.  It is strange that I didn’t have it.  I had heard her read from it many years ago at a Segue reading, at that same reading where I had made my awkward introduction to her. I had been interested in the poem, but there was something about LR’s elegant and distanced way of reading it aloud that kept it at arms’ length from me.  Interestingly, I wrote my own “the men” poem a couple of years later.  I knew that my poem (“Orgone Gophers,” which appeared in Folly)  owed some debt to hers, but mine was so different, goofily bop-prosodic, neologistically bumbling, that it seemed like quite a different animal:
Orgone Gophers
Cooing pop huckles. Minarlagy of funf. The latter craal-skeevers (anxious like bucket): froos, angle, insecure.
I keen my meringo this hopey day. I murv it. The hopcakes are waiting for the nested parlances, the nested parlances for a 6-month grace period, after which they will expire.
It all comes together as perforations in the ample slough — beastborne, tolerant, mint, and gland-handed.
Where’s my speed, the clock’s a muffle, the clown raises sham hackles, the plain stripes badger the nonplain
stripes as limits to patience.
The men hack outside the door in explicatory gasses. They muddle and wink, halving their trousers. The parts rattle by in pink bones. The men are wuthering. A stag wuthers the hard waiting.
The men lift up the thorny leaves of togetherness. There is a pad there.
Under the pad, another man, horning a thought as a drawing. The pink ones wonder — bastard hardcake? Terrible wuthering intertwining a lumpy duddle.
The plaid couches, pro dusk and anti-dawn, haunched by men and soaky weapons like flags rolled up in glands while the plaid maidens change their lamb sprockets.
Inches and inches and inches of man, boozling and edgily nuzzling. Piranha potatoes! Limbering the cud. Sweat drapes. Miracle sinews absolute the free fibers of a flexibly ordered man, half red and half blue, on a night
watch and skin patrol.
I don’t can’t — can’t can’t — a man. Hip dud. Catafrack. Pone.
My poem is related but different. It has the same quality of affection, I guess.
But I wrote it, you see, without having actually read LR’s entire poem.
And when I did… last week… oh!  The sky opened!
I’d like to note here that others have written on/responded to the book very interestingly. These links are worth reading just on their own merit.

What is remarkable about The Men is the extent to which it expresses the ambivalences of how one feels about men. As LR  writes, “The concept  of the men is elastic.” It is simultaneously adoring and patronizing, intimidated and pitying, critical and indulgent, yearny and austere. Men are clearly The Problem, on both a micro- and a macro- scale, but if you are a heterosexual woman, they seem to be The Problem one always wants more of. I have not even begun to approach a solution to this conundrum, and I expect I will go to my grave with it yet unsolved, since I seem not to be the type of fish that can go for long without a bicycle. 
Close readings, especially of book-length poems, aren’t really good on blogs, so I won’t do that, but here are some things I noticed while reading
~ the first section functions musically as a kind of overture
~a repeated trope is this notion of “falling upward” – both in vertical relation to men’s power and into the exhilaration of desire for them
~there are moments that sound like a Ted Berrigan poem (“It’s 6:45 and I’m 39”)
~there’s a sweet little Proust reference: “Albertine”
~she remarks on the Aspergian qualities of men: “At such times/ in exhaustion/ they show you the liner notes”
~and yet there’s something Aspergian, or more precisely, obsessive, about the poem-project: “I study them more than any other object.” or “I’m making a record of the men as I know them”
~there are what feel to me like Scalapino moments, too: “such as the experience of the lily behind me”
~but the book this book most reminds me of is Alan Davies’ NAME, even in the “handfeel” of it… it is as yearny, and as elegantly paced
~The word “little” appears a lot:  “little teeth”
~”The funny pathos of men –  I salute this”
~It’s hydromel because in part this book is a song about the deliciousness of men, their palpable heartbreaking sweetness.  These are not the men who charge about so much as “the men who breathe into me, tender, phallic, kimonoed.”  These are the luscious and vulnerable men “both sublime and beautiful, delicate and copious”:  “Nature/ is weak; the men feel pain/ They fear death.”  They are not so much going out to war hairy-legged in togas to come back with their shield or on it, at least not in this book.  These are the men you LONG for: “Trashy sweet brain adoring and adoring them.”
~”Each of us psycho-sexually is a man, dreaming and covulsing, plunged into some false Africa manically like a poet”
I asked my sweetheart to read bits aloud to me from the book, because I wanted to hear it in his hydromel voice.  He read this:
Let the thought here be planted
That the men want to float
Just the pink tip of their
Thing touching the firmament
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked. (He doesn’t really get poetry.)
And I just almost swooned.

2 thoughts on “On "The Men"

  1. Dear Nada, I have been your faithful fan for years. I am so totally tickled to know you like The Men. When i started looking at Ululations it was more like a fashion blog, and i am a big fashion blog junky. So– do you know Stylebubble? Please, have a little treat on me: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/ Have you ever seen a more fetching pocketbook?

    (aka complete fucking disaster, all deadlines blown to smithereens (just ask Lytle) desk a pile of tea stained receipts, anonymous tech cords, used tickets, illegible post-it notes, tax bills, books i should have thanked people for two years ago, lipsticks, screws that keep falling out of my desk chair, long grey hairs that fall out of my head during repeated moments of despair, me bundled in layers and shawls and scarfs and things because the doors in my house do not hold the weather out. . .)

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